A jury began deliberations Friday in the trial of the first six members of a group arrested after Donald Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration. Among those protesting that day were members of a group called Disrupt J20, which promotes an anti-fascist, anti-capitalist agenda. On Inauguration Day, several protesters broke away from the group, smashing windows at nearby businesses, throwing rocks, bricks and pieces of concrete, and 217 protesters, journalists, medics and bystanders were arrested after being surrounded by police in a formation known as a “kettle.”

On Friday, Washington, D.C., Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz dismissed one of the most serious charges against the protesters, that of “inciting a riot,” which could have resulted in 10-year sentences for each of the six defendants. Leibovitz dismissed the charge because “none of them engaged in conduct that amounted to urging other persons to destroy property.”

The defendants still face seven other charges, including five felony counts of destruction of property, which carry up to 10 years in prison, and two misdemeanor charges of engaging in a riot, which could result in up to 180 days in jail.

The Washington Post elaborates:

On Wednesday afternoon, Leibovitz denied requests from defense attorneys to dismiss those counts, saying there was enough evidence for jurors to weigh whether the defendants should be found guilty. She noted the government’s argument that the defendants were aware of the destruction of property and that the crowd of protesters — dressed in black so it was harder to identify them — provided cover for the vandals among them.

The Intercept adds:

Only a tiny fraction of those arrested on January 20 could have personally engaged in acts of property destruction. The prosecution doesn’t dispute this fact. “We don’t believe the evidence is going to show that any of these six individuals personally took that crowbar or that hammer and hit the limo or personally bashed those windows of that Starbucks in,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff told the jury in her opening statement on November 20. “You don’t personally have to be the one that breaks the window to be guilty of rioting.” …

The prosecution has argued that by wearing black, meeting at a predefined location, moving as a cohesive unit, and remaining in the streets after property destruction began, the entire group aided and abetted the tiny fraction who smashed windows and turned over trash bins. In his closing argument Thursday, [Assistant U.S. Attorney Rizwan] Qureshi likened the black bloc — the protest tactic used on January 20 — to a driver who waits outside while the “muscle” commits a robbery. “That’s exactly what this sea of black was,” he intoned. “It was the getaway car.”

Chip Gibbons, the counsel for Defending Rights and Dissent, told The Intercept that the prosecution is attempting to criminalize proximity to the crimes, and that nearly 200 people—credentialed journalists among them—will potentially be held accountable for the actions of a select few. “The prosecution’s case is utterly bizarre and essentially rests on both guilt by association and criminalization of dissent,” he said.

Gibbons added that the case comes down to what the First Amendment does and does not protect, rather than factual disputes. The prosecution and defense agree that property damage occurred at the inauguration protest, and that this damage was done by only a few people. Other protesters arrested will face trial in the coming months, though it is not yet clear what the acquittal of the incitement charges means for the remaining defendants, as there may be stronger evidence against them.

Lee Camp, who attended the inauguration protest, provides additional context in his weekly comedy news show, “Redacted Tonight”:

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